Facts About The Eastern Chipmunk
The Eastern Chipmunk is a small ground-dwelling squirrel commonly found all throughout southeastern Canada and the eastern United States. They belong to the genus Tamias and the species striatus, and are well adapted and prevalent small mammals. They have readily adapted to life in forest areas as well as suburban and rural areas, and live along side humans very well.
The eastern chipmunk is a small squirrel about 5-6 inches in length and weighting about 3 ounces. They have a furry thick coat brownish-red in color with five black stripes with white lines running down their backs. They also have two white stripes found above and below their eyes, and small, rounded ears. They have a white belly and undersides, and a black tail with a rusty color underneath. Chipmunks have sharp claws for climbing, sensitive hearing, and a set of incisors that grow continuously.
They are found in deciduous forests, scrubs and edges, and usually have a home range of about ½ of an acre. Normally they will defend their territories, but usually only about 50 feet from their burrows. A chipmunk’s burrow is extremely important for their survival and they spend almost their entire lives digging it. In fact, some burrows can be up to 30 feet in length. Burrows are made on the ground and feature well hidden entrances in stone walls or rotten trees. They provide chipmunks with protection from predators, a place to rest during the winter, a place to rear their young and food storage. Food is stored in several food chambers located just off of the main nesting chamber. Most of the food collected by the very active chipmunk is stored in these chambers for the long winter. Chipmunks will only store food that will not mold.
The eastern chipmunk provides a tasty meal for many different predators including: hawks, owls, raccoons, skunks, cats, crows and coyotes. Because of this, they are very wary of open spaces, and travel under the cover of brush or stay inside of their burrows. They are most active at day, and prefer to hide away safely at night within their burrows. Burrows also protect chipmunks from the harsh North American winters. Eastern chipmunks do not necessarily hibernate, but they spend the winter resting inside their well stocked burrows, sleeping up to eight days at a time.
Chipmunks are omnivores, meaning they eat a variety of foods both plant and animal. The eastern chipmunk’s diet consists of grains, acorns, nuts, berries, seeds, mushrooms, insects and even bird eggs. They have a large check pouch, which allows them to carry up to nine large nuts inside their mouth for storage in their burrows. To outlast the winter, a chipmunk can store up to 8 pounds of food in their burrows. By burying seeds in different places outside their burrows, which chipmunks often do, they help spread seeds for germination. This makes them important members of the forest community.
Eastern chipmunks are usually solitary creatures, but males and females get together about twice year in February to April and again in June to August. For the 3-10 days that a female chipmunk is in estrus, she will produce a series of ‘chips’, a sound that will bring males into her territory. Once they have mated the male leaves her to rear the young alone. After a gestation period of 31 days, she can give birth to up to 9 babies, but 2-5 babies are more common. The baby chipmunks are born helpless and with their eyes closed for the first 30 days, so they must rely completely on their mother for survival. She will nurse them for about a month, then begin teaching them to forage. They will be fully weaned and on their own by 2 months, and the mother will produce a second set of offspring. The eastern chipmunk has a life expectancy of about 3 years.